CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- WELCOME TO my Monday column, which is Manti Te'o-free. It is your refuge from the most overplayed story in college football history.Shoot, that's another reason I'm glad the Internet wasn't around when I went to college, for that would have brought the very real possibility of phantom girlfriends dumping me.Yikes! Let's scurry to other topics.nn
This conference scheduling thing tends to even out. Trust me on this one.And if you're a Marshall basketball fan, you'll need such trust this week, as the Thundering Herd has its first two-game road swing in Conference USA play. The itinerary: Southern Mississippi on Wednesday, Memphis on Saturday afternoon.The good news is this: For the first time I can remember since MU entered C-USA, the team can string this together on a single trip, even with the Wednesday-Saturday format. Fly to some airport sort of close to Hattiesburg, play that game, bus the 298 miles to Memphis, practice there Thursday and Friday, play Saturday and then bus home.Sounds tough, but it surely beats flying Tuesday for a Wednesday game, flying back to Huntington (or Charleston) on Thursday morning, catching a few classes and then flying somewhere else Friday for a Saturday game.Of course, it would be nice if C-USA would alter the rigid Wednesday-Saturday format, but I've always heard that most league coaches and athletic directors have been staunchly opposed. Maybe the new lineup will have a different view.But that's the least of the Herd's problems this week. Quality of opposition is - Southern Miss is 4-0 in the league and 15-4 overall; Memphis is still Memphis. The Tigers are 3-0 in C-USA, 14-3 overall.And keep in mind that MU's first league road foe, Texas-El Paso, sits in third place at 3-1. So when we return to this space next Monday morning, the Herd could be 2-3 with three road losses to teams with a combined 15-1 league mark.That's as tough a scheduling break as I've seen since March 2010, when MU was forced to trek to UTEP the Wednesday before the league tournament, which was held in ... El Paso. But there is opportunity - if the Herd steals a win this week, it sits 3-2 with a big win on its ledger and a two-game homestand coming up.That would perk up MU's season, but it's a lot to ask. The Herd has decapitated Tulsa and East Carolina in its last two home games, leading by a combined 43 points at halftime. But it hasn't beaten a Division I team away from the Cam Henderson Center this season.In only one of those eight losses, to South Dakota State at Hempstead, N.Y., has the Herd avoided falling behind by double digits. In the last three such games, the Herd's deficits were more like abysses - 31 to Kentucky, 38 to Ohio and 20 to UTEP.Improvement there would be encouraging, even if the Herd loses both games this week.
The pitfalls of playing on the road in Conference USA have been documented in this space from time to time over the last seven-plus basketball seasons.Yes, MU has been in this league for nearly a decade. And the road hasn't gotten easier.C-USA teams are 97-19 at home this season, but overall records don't mean squat - league schedules are littered with programs such as Young Harris, Spring Hill and North Carolina Wesleyan, who saved themselves the indignity of an extra bake sale with a paycheck.A look at home and away records in C-USA games better tells the tale. This season, the home teams are off to a 15-7 start, a .688 percentage that, if maintained, would represent the largest home-vs.-road disparity in eight seasons.The count since 2005-06 is home teams 425, visitors 257, a .623 happiness rate for the home crowd. Home teams were most successful last season, going 63-33 (.656), while the closest margin was 51-45 (.531) in 2009-10.
The latter was an anomaly, and so was this: Marshall was 6-2 on the road that season. Overall, MU is 19-37 (.339) away from home, below the league average of .377.Is the road tougher on the Herd, relative to the rest of the league? Yes, but I would suggest that record is the product of a few ordinary MU teams, as well.nn
Didn't it seem that, once upon a time, Marshall assistant coaches moved on to considerably greener pastures?Take defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, for instance. The flamboyant "Coach Azz" parlayed his 2008 stay at Marshall into a ticket to Oregon, where he has cultivated a deep line on an always-overshadowed defense. And now, he apparently is following boss Chip Kelly to the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.Thundering Herd fans are accustomed to watching assistants making upward exits. It's a badge of honor: If the big boys are going after your coaches, they must be doing something right.But this "silly season" has taken an odd turn at MU. Five coaches have left the Herd program, with four going to either (a) existing C-USA schools (b) incoming C-USA schools or © schools thought to be top C-USA expansion candidates. The other, former defensive coordinator Chris Rippon, resigned.No Pac-12 job, such as "Coach Azz" landed. No Big 12 job, as another defensive line coach, Fred Tate, found at Texas Tech last year. (He is following head coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati.)Tony Petersen went to Louisiana Tech, and he may return to Joan C. Edwards Stadium in enemy garb. Geep Wade headed to Middle Tennessee, whose entrance date to C-USA is moving up to this fall. Lytrel Pollard returned to his alma mater, Southern Mississippi, and Joe Miday left for C-USA aspirant Western Kentucky.At first glance, it seems like a quartet of lateral moves. What gives?The four departures carry their own story, and don't seem to part of an orchestrated desertion.Petersen had been quarterbacks coach and co-coordinator, with Bill Legg running the offense and calling plays. Petersen won't only call the plays for Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz, but he likely will get wider latitude to develop the offense than most coordinators. He almost certainly got a raise in the deal.Pollard's departure may have been welcomed by both parties, if you know what I mean. As much as the cornerback unit was thinned by injuries, the threesome of Derrick Thomas, Keith Baxter and Monterius Lovett could have been better.Wade, who helped Legg with the offensive line, probably gets a bigger check at Middle Tennessee. Also, he and wife Amy will return to their Tennessee roots.I find Miday's departure the most disconcerting. Promoted from within, he gave MU's strength and conditioning program stability during its several changes at the top. Assistant Scott Wilks, an ex-Herd player, apparently is following Miday, which leaves a larger void in the training room during a critical offseason.But Miday's move has a story, too - WKU is Bobby Petrino's "rehab" job, and it's not a bad idea to climb that coaching tree. One figures Petrino will keep the Hilltoppers on their upward trajectory, then take his motorcycle to a job comparable to his former Arkansas gig.Word out of Huntington is Doc Holliday and Co. are not anguishing over the pool of replacements. But an already grumpy fan base is getting a little nervous, I can assure you.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.